Freedom Writers is a 2007 drama film based on the book The Freedom Writers Diary: How a Teacher and 150 Teens Used Writing to Change Themselves and the World Around Them by teacher Erin Gruwell who wrote the story based on Woodrow Wilson Classical High School in Long Beach, California. It stars Hilary Swank, Scott Glenn, Imelda Staunton, Patrick Dempsey, and many others. It is directed by Richard LaGravenese and released by Paramount Pictures.
Plot. The movie is set in 1994-1995. Erin Gruwell (played by Swank) leaves her hometown, Newport Beach, to teach at Woodrow Wilson High School. She is excited and expectant, as the school is formerly well-performing and now has put an integration plan in place. To her dismay, she is assigned to a class of “at-risk” and “untouchables” high school students. They group themselves according to their races and most frequently break out and fight, forcing others to stop attending class. Not only does Erin find difficulty in her students, but also from her department head who refuses to let her teach with books as the students would only damage and lose them. Instead, she is told to focus on training them discipline and obedience.
One night, some of her students get into trouble. A Hispanic girl named Eva and her friend, a Cambodian refugee named Sindy, witness a shooting which incidentally kills Sindy’s boyfriend. It is Eva’s boyfriend who does the shooting. As a witness, Eva must testify at court, but she intends to falsify the crime to guard “her own kind”.
At school, Erin intercepts a racist drawing by one of her high school students. The drawing depicts an African-American face with extremely large lips. Disappointed by this, she then tells her students about the Holocaust and the horrors of the Second World War. She gradually begins to earn their trust. She launches several classroom activities and buys them composition books to record their diaries. Through these, she learns about their experiences of being abused, seeing their friends die, and being evicted. She invites various Jewish Holocaust survivors to talk with her class. She even takes her student on a field trip to the Museum of Tolerance. Inspired, Erin works two-part time jobs to pay for more books and spends a lot more time at school.
The next year, Erin teaches her class again for its sophomore (second year). After her students read The Diary of Anne Frank, they raise fund to bring Miep Gies, the woman who sheltered Anne Frank from the German soldiers, and share her experiences with them. One of the students tells her that she is his hero, to which she denies and claims that she was merely doing the right thing. The moment strikes Eva and when she finally testifies at the court, she breaks down and tells the truth.
Erin urges her students more to write their diaries in book form. She compiles them and names it “The Free Writers Diary.” Unfortunately, her much dedication to her job makes her husband divorce her. Her department head also tells her she cannot teach her kids for their junior year. Erin fights this decision, and after convincing the superintendent, she is permitted to teach them junior and senior years.
Commentary. I find this movie very inspirational as I am also a teacher. As it is based on actual events, the movie is something that relates to everyone though situations may not be similar. It appears to be a movie about discrimination, but it is much more than that. It talks about fighting for what is true and good, not through force and arms, but through a noble form – writing. It is through writing that her students finally have true freedom. As in real life, it is through writing that we can freely express ourselves, without bounds and without fears. It is through writing that we can be the kind of person we truly are, without being judged and mocked. There is liberty in writing, and with responsible writing, we can truly change the world around us.
Hilary Swank is exemplary in this movie. She has proven again her caliber in this heart-warming film.
Reception. The movie received mixed reviews. Some draw inspirational from it. However, others find the movie another cliché. Rotten Tomatoes gave it a rating of 69%.
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